U.S. law firm for Georgia's Saakashvili expands lobbying push

Georgian former President Saakashvili prays for Ukraine during a court hearing in Tbilisi
Georgian former President Mikheil Saakashvili holds a candle while praying for Ukraine in a defendant's dock during a court hearing in Tbilisi, Georgia, March 17, 2022. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
  • Akerman lawyer is advocating for former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili's release
  • Marks first foreign lobbying disclosure for the law firm

(Reuters) - U.S. law firm Akerman is lobbying U.S. government officials to help free imprisoned former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, according to a filing with the U.S. Justice Department.

Massimo D'Angelo, a New York partner at the Miami-based law firm, has been working on Saakashvili's case since July, according to a Feb. 3 disclosure filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

D'Angelo is part of a diplomatic push to secure Saakashvili's release from a Georgian prison, after a court in that country on Monday declined to do so.

As part those efforts, D'Angelo and others are speaking to government officials in the U.S. and Europe about measures to hold Georgian officials accountable for Saakashvili's imprisonment, including through economic penalties, sanctions and the suspension of foreign aid, he told Reuters on Tuesday.

"I think if he dies in prison, it's going to cause a real rupture in the political position of Georgia" in the West, D'Angelo said.

Saakashvili, who led the former Soviet republic as a pro-Western reformer from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge he and his supporters say was politically motivated. He also served in multiple Ukrainian governments, including under President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Saakashvili was convicted without participating in his trial, and was arrested and imprisoned in 2021 when he returned to Georgia.

His legal team, which alleges that he was poisoned while in prison, plans to appeal Monday's decision denying Saakashvili's release to the European Court of Human Rights.

Georgian authorities have said Saakashvili is overstating the seriousness of his condition and that he is receiving proper care at a clinic in Tbilisi.

Akerman's disclosure said its work for Saakashvili will include engaging with foreign diplomats and U.S. officials to gain support for their client "and to secure his release from prison on humanitarian grounds."

D'Angelo also worked on an amicus brief filed with the Georgian court that denied Saakashvili's bid to be released. The brief featured the opinions of U.S. medical experts on the former president's health.

D'Angelo said he traveled last year to the Georgian clinic where Saakashvili was being held to obtain samples for medical tests, which were conducted in the United States and then analyzed by experts.

Akerman's filing said D'Angelo would be billing an hourly rate of $850 for his work. He declined to discuss his rates with Reuters.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Jacqueline Thomsen, based in Washington, D.C., covers legal news related to policy, the courts and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at jacqueline.thomsen@thomsonreuters.com.